Over the weekend there has been lots of discussion and debate about the UK Government decision to demolish Public Health England. It is a big decision and will impact on many people so I have to hope that it is carefully and sensitively handled. The issue I fear is that will be created to replace it will be a unit to respond to a pandemic rather than to future crises.
What this past five months has shown is that countries need to be ready for any type of crisis as they can happen at any time to anyone. It is not enough to be ready for flooding, terror attack or business failure. There will be so many more possible issues and incidents that can affect people, businesses and countries. The critical element is that all those are ready to respond to any form of crisis.
Being crisis ready needs a number of things. You have to be prepared, understand what the plan is for when the worst happens, and know what that means for you. Covid-19 has shown that it is vital for governments to have an ongoing conversation with the public about risks, issues and how they can personally be prepared. The world is an unpredictable place and we never know what is going to be round the corner but we can get ready.
There is a need for governments to have been able to see risks in a broad and expansive way. Focusing on a select number of crises in a very siloed way is not going to help. It can be guaranteed that the one thing you have not prepared for is the thing that is going to happen. The key is to have a crisis response framework that will be able to flex and respond to whatever occurs. There will have been scenario planning for the most likely incidents but no matter what happens the framework allows you to meet it.
Remember that reputational crises can be as damaging or more damaging than those natural disasters and operational issues. When crisis response is being considered it has to be able to work in both cases. This can be done if you focus on the people who are affected by whatever has happened and develop a narrative and plan with that in mind.
Finally, and importantly developing a crisis response has to be built on the knowledge, experience and debrief information that comes from previous events. It may be that a debrief shows that an institution or structure isn’t working but have the data and insight to support the change you are going to make. I would be interested to see the detailed data and information that has led the UK Government to move to disband and replace Public Health England. Also, what other changes need to be made if the response to Covid-19 has been assessed to allow this decision to be taken?
As we are heading towards the sixth month mark in dealing with this pandemic, the time is right to start to expand the discussion. This is more than just the immediate Covid-19 response or considering the financial crisis. What matters now is that we debrief, understand what has worked or not so far, and develop plans accordingly. Heading into winter needs people and businesses to be crisis ready in a way they have never been. To be prepared there needs to be an open discussion focusing on what matters which is that people are supported and helped in the coming months no matter what happens.